Sky 1TB set-top box

Sky's Sky HD set-top box, it has to be said is one of our favourite gadgets of the last decade, defining how we watch television and ensuring that no one in the family has to ask how they set the timer on the "VCR". But that's old news, Sky's Sky+ technology has been around for a long time and the launch of a new electronic programme guide will either please you or send you balmy.

It's probably quite sad to admit this, but we know many people that through the love of American dramas or just bad management (they say they are always travelling...) repeatedly face the warning of running out of space on their box: 160GB of personal space on those 300GB boxes just isn't enough for some people.

So has Sky, with the launch of its 1TB (1000GB) drive merely dumped in a bigger hard drive, and if that's the case why should you not just do a hatchet job and bung in a bigger hard drive yourself? We installed the new box under our TV to find out.

It has to be said that we were a tiny bit apprehensive about spending time looking at the 1TB drive, after all if it is just the same as previous models, but with a bigger drive then what's the point of us wasting your time? Just read our review of the Sky HD set-top box, our review of the newer Sky HD EPG and then be done with it. Luckily it's not just that.

It's worth pointing out that the EPG hasn't changed (it's still the new one) and the premise is the same: you watch telly, you pause telly, you record telly. Your life watching telly is easier/better.

However there are plenty of cosmetic changes. The storage capacity might have increased in size, however it is now smaller in virtually all dimensions. Now made by Amstrad rather than Thomson, the new box measures 351 x 265 x 73mm compared to 380 x 245 x 80mm.

That smaller size isn't the only change, the box and accompanying remote are now a shiny gun metal rather than a dull black and overall it's more stylish in its appearance - "sleek" even - as Mrs Pocket-lint commented.

The hard multimedia buttons (record, stop, fast forward, rewind, pause and play) as found on the 160GB version are still present, however are now considerably smaller. The status icons on the right of the device have now been hidden out of sight behind a smooth plastic finish so aren't on show when not in use and the interactive card slot has been banished altogether.

Your viewing card and a USB socket (not in use) can be found behind a hidden door. The inclusion of a USB socket at the front is clearly Sky future-proofing itself. Could we see a portable device able to connect to it or is just for the engineers? Let's hope it's the former.

Move around the back and the layout, options and configuration is slightly different too. In the move from a 160GB Thomson box to an Amstrad 1TB box you'll lose S-Video and one of the Scart sockets. You'll gain a standard Video in, a coaxial audio out. The layout won't make much difference to the performance but it's worth noting that the power is on the left rather than the right.

Finally, and rather handily, the case sides actually continue beyond the back of the box so your cables aren't crushed by pushing the box back in your hi-fi or home cinema rack.

Connecting it to your TV is still via HDMI, Scart or Composite. As before the HDMI cable won't deliver the Dolby Digital audio; for those with just a TV you'll be able to get stereo audio from HDMI. If you've got an amp or AV receiver and want to take advantage of the best audio, you'll have to use optical or coaxial digital cable for 5.1 surround sound. It's a shame that Sky hasn't opted to simply run the audio through the HDMI cable now that it is the defacto standard for the home cinema environment.

Inside and you actually get a 1.5TB (1500GB) hard drive of which 1TB can be used for personal storage and the other 500GB used for Sky's Anytime service and the operating system.

1TB sounds impressive, but how much does that equate to? We've spent the week recording as many HD programmes as we could and still couldn't make a dent on the percentage meter. Sky says that there is enough space to give you 240 hours of high-definition television with its 1TB capacity.

That's around 120 movies, or every episode of 24 with room to spare for a couple of week's  worth of EastEnders. The disk really is that big.

When it comes to Sky Anytime, with extra hard drive space (around 400GB of that 500GB of untouchable space) the result here is that Sky has more space to pitch you stuff. We've found that means you get more movies, and more entertainment-based shows mostly in HD where available.

Finally we could be imagining this, but the interface does appear to be running faster, with the electronic programme guide not as sluggish as it is on the Thomson box.

Verdict

At £250 plus an installation fee you've got to be a big fan of TV to want to upgrade, however, that said, in doing so you'll have a box that will stand you in good stead for a couple of years to come.

In the 2 weeks we've had the box we've yet to worry about what we record and whether or not we can afford the space to watch it in HD, while at the same time building up a catalogue of movie favourites.

The lack of audio support for HDMI is still annoying, but this isn't anything new.

This smaller, sleeker box certainly packs a punch with the potential to become your home video server, as long as you've remembered to record what you want to watch in the first place.